"We come from a star, O Zaphnath, where men desire many things and are never satisfied. But of all the things thou offerest us, we wish not one. We make no peace unless these old men be left alive. We do not know this country or its people, wherefore we are most unfit to rule them. We wish no slaves, but will pay a hire to one or two good men, who may do our daily tasks. And as for women, we never choose but one, and then only when we know her well and find her equally willing."
"Then are ye come from a most strange star indeed! But I must tell thee that the laws of the Kemi forbid even to the Pharaoh, who hath the first claim upon all women, to take to wife a woman such as her whose hand thou clingest to so warmly. What findest thou in her whose dumb tongue could never tell thy praises, and if 'twere loosened, her mind would still be dumb and silent?"
"Who is this woman, then, whom thou sentest out to meet us? She alone hath had no fear, and hath greeted us in a friendly and a welcome manner. Had it not been for her, we might still have been loosening our thunder among your soldiers, or flashing this lightning in thy face!" I said, half drawing my long sword as I spoke.
"She is Thenocris, a poor, unfortunate maiden, dumb of tongue and mind," he answered. "In my country we would call her mute and senseless, but here among the Kemi they revere such ill-starred creatures, thinking that because they act strangely, and look not upon the world as others do, their souls must be turned within to the contemplation of hidden and spiritual things. They think such creatures know the secrets of the gods, and that the gods have made them mute, or speaking only silly things, lest those secrets be revealed. The people, therefore, give them alms, and suppose that they are effectual in intercessions with the gods. This girl went out at noon, as was her custom, to stand by the gate and ask alms. A soldier saw thee seize her hand and hold it strangely long, and he reported this to us. Whereupon these wise men with one accord decided that ye must have come for women, and we set about preparing a peace-offering of two thousand maidens for you in the Park. Afterwards there came another soldier later to say that ye had landed in the Park, pleased with our offering of the women. Then rose yon grey-beard and argued most wisely thus: That ye, being such strange creatures, had understood best what we understand the least; that thou hadst learned the hidden thought of this dumb woman by long holding of her hand; that, as ye had been friendly to her, she might be able to lead you unto us; and lastly, that it would be no breach of our laws if thou tookest this woman to thine own land and madest her thy wife; that if we could thus save our city, and the lives of the people, it would be wisdom to give her to thee, together with all the women in the Park. Then another grey-beard, wishing to share the credit for a wise idea, arose and insisted that it would be ill in us to keep the strange white animal, which one of the men found upon the plateau. We knew that ye must have brought this, for in all our land we have no four-footed thing smaller than the useful burden-carrying asses ye have seen. Wherefore, the wisdom of the grey-beards being now complete, we sent the dumb girl and the white animal out with the soldier, and they have brought you hither."
"So you have been falling in love with a queen of your own making, who is no more than a dumb idiot!" chuckled the doctor.
"Silence!" I shouted hotly, for I was unspeakably sorry for the poor girl. "There are softer, kinder words than those by which to call a poor blank soul that's born awry. The Kemi are quite right, for this girl, having no sense, has yet been wiser to-day than both of us and all these wise men." Then turning, I addressed the ruler in Hebrew: "Thou shouldst know that in our land the seizing of the right hand is a salutation of friendship and welcome, much the same as the pressure of the cheek is here. We had vainly tried to signal to your soldiers that we were friendly, and when this woman stretched out her pretty hand I was pleased to seize it warmly. Call thou a soldier now and send her safely home. Let the white rabbit belong henceforth to her. She hath unwittingly been God's messenger in bringing us together. Mayhap she hath saved the lives of many of the people. Wherefore let them remember her, and henceforth treat her kindly. And as for those other women in the Park, bid them all return to their homes, and let it generally be known that there will be peace, and no further war. The terms of truce we will arrange with thee and with the Pharaoh somewhat later. We wish no gifts or offerings of peace. No more do we desire than that the Pharaoh shall entertain us for a season until we learn your ways, and then permit us to live quietly in this, your city, obedient to your laws, and pursuing such careers as our abilities may fit us for."
"All this that ye desire, and more, most gladly shall be done, and a grand festival shall be appointed for this night to celebrate the peace. The Pharaoh will entertain you and his royal friends with feasting and with dancing, and the terms of the compact between us shall then be ratified."
At this point a grey-beard interrupted the young ruler, and a spirited conversation took place between them, after which the youth asked,-- "Tell me now, are there not many more such men as ye upon the Blue Star, who may come to wage a further war with us?"
"Have no fear for that," I answered. "The vessel in which we came is the sole means of bridging that vast space, and no more can come, unless indeed we bring them. But all of them shall keep the covenant we make with thee."
Then Zaphnath held a long consultation with the wise men, which ended by the summoning of three soldiers--one to take the woman home, another to carry the news of peace to the Park and to the people, and the third, as I supposed, to convey a message to the Pharaoh; but before the last was despatched, Zaphnath said to me,-- "Our messengers reported a third curious person with you, having a much larger body and long moving horns. What have ye done with him? Is he left in charge of your travelling house?"
Then I explained this circumstance to them, as well as the incident of my smoking, which I promised to repeat at the banquet in the evening. After hearing this they dispatched the third messenger.
"We have heard, not only that ye breathed smoke and carried flames in your limbs, but that your flesh was of iron, invulnerable to arrows; that ye were stronger than birds, and carried the thunder and lightnings of the gods with which to kill; and that ye were able to walk through the air as well as on the ground."
"'Tis true we are stronger than any birds upon our proper star, and that we kill with a thunder and a lightning. Our flesh is tougher and more solid than thine, yet 'tis not of iron. But tell me, what knowest thou of iron?"
"'Tis a rare, precious metal which we coin for money, but I see thou carriest much of it. Thy thunderers are made of it."
"And hast thou no metal, bright and yellow, such as this?" I asked, exhibiting my gold watch.
"In truth, the Pharaoh alone is able to possess such riches, and in all the land of Kem there is no such huge lump of it as that!" he exclaimed in wonder, while the sleepy wise men opened their big eyes.
"We have within our belts many coins of this, which we may barter with the Pharaoh for things more plenteous here."
"Are ye travelling traders then, or what were your occupations on the Blue Star? Were ye warriors, rulers, wise men, or owners of the soil?"
"My good friend here hath been a wise man, as thou must know from his grey beard," I answered, smiling at the doctor. "He hath been a teacher of knowledge to the people, and it was his superior wisdom which contrived the house in which we travelled hither."
"But hath it not been a folly to teach wisdom to the people? When they have learned, the wise man turneth fool! Wisdom groweth ripe by being bottled, but whoso poureth it out for every thirsty drinker wasteth good wine upon gross beasts!"
"In its youth our star held to these opinions, but now it teacheth wisdom to every child, and in this manner we have made progress into many things not even dreamed of here. As for my own profession, I have been a dealer in wheat, the bread-grain of our star. Hast thou here such a small grain growing at the bearded end of a tall straw?"
"In truth, the land of Kem raiseth so large a store of such a grain as to feed all the surrounding countries! Our greatest traffic is in this wheat. Hast thou not seen the green fields of it lining the banks of the Nasr-Nil, until the sight tires following it? This season there cometh such a crop as Kem hath never seen before, and for six years we have been blest with its plenty----"
Here he was interrupted by the hurried return of the third messenger, who addressed him in excited tones. As the Kemi use no gestures, and but little facial expression in their conversation, I could not guess the import of his message. Therefore when it was translated by the youth it was all the more surprising.
"The soldier saith that a certain curious man of Kem, anxious to explore thy travelling house, ventured within it, when presently it rose and sailed away with him far out of the city, and was lost from sight in the red distance!"
This was an unforeseen, stupefying development. I left the doctor to guard our things, and rushing out I leaped the courtyard wall and ran with all haste to the Park. The projectile was gone! No sign or trace of it was anywhere to be seen. Willingly or not, we were henceforth chained to Mars!
The Iron Men from the Blue Star Returning from Long Breath, I could not but notice the entire subsidence of the terror, which had previously been so marked, and the general signs of rejoicing which were now taking its place. It was easy to see that I was an object of absorbing interest and busy comment. No one pointed the finger at me, for that rude gesture was as unknown as it was unnecessary. The mere turning of a great pair of eyes quickly in my direction was an indication, significant enough, that I was being denoted.
I now understood the more composed behaviour of the women. They were accustomed to the idea of being taken in war, and never suffered slaughter or hardship thereby, but merely a change of masters. As they now left the Park they eyed me curiously, as if wondering from what sort of new master they had escaped. I imagined I could detect some signs of disappointment among them, at being cheated out of a trip to a new star or being dismissed from the service of a god. Occasionally one of them would incline her head gently to the right to meet her rising hand, in a dignified salutation. I approached one of the fairest of these and extended my hand. She seemed rather surprised, but calmly placed an iron coin in my palm! Evidently I must make haste to learn the Kemish salutation, or I would pass for a common beggar! My hand certainly did look hard and brown, compared with her perfectly white and transparent skin, through which the blood suffused the beautiful pink flush of life. But even if a hotter sun had scorched and tanned my hand, it did not look as dark and tough as the coin, although the soldiers had spread the report that our flesh was of iron.
The chief business activity in the city seemed to be the transporting from the surrounding country of an endless number of fibrous bags filled with the bread-grain. I saw some of these bags open in the shops, and the grain was shaped like wheat, but as large and less solid than a coffee berry. Trains of asses bearing these bags were seen in every street and entering by every gate. Each train of fifteen or twenty asses was driven by a sandalled Martian, wearing the spread bird-wing which seemed to denote the Pharaoh's service. The animals had the lazy, sluggish, plodding habits which I expected, and in these respects their driver differed very little from them. He gave an occasional long hiss, followed by a jerky grunt, which sounded like "sh-h-h-h, kuhnk!" and was evidently intended to hurry the animals, but it served them quite as well as a lullaby. These drivers, who doubtless had just been hearing stories of me, were a little surprised at coming upon me so soon, but looked me over deliberately, as if calculating how much iron money I would make, if there were no waste in the coinage!
But I hastened back to the doctor at the Palace, being obliged to leap the courtyard wall again, for I was not acquainted with the signal to command the Terror-birds. He expected no other report of the projectile than the one I brought.
"The only hope is that the meddling Martian may have turned in but one battery," he said. "In time this will exhaust itself, and the projectile will tumble back upon Mars. If it should strike in the water, it may not be shattered, but of course it might be submerged. The chances that we will ever see it again are extremely remote. If it should be discovered anywhere on the planet, it would probably be coined up into money, and the fortune of the Pharaoh would hardly buy us iron enough to make another. Well, the unexpected always happens. It was a fatal mistake ever to have left it."
"If it is gone for good," I answered, "let us hope that this planet may suit us better than the Earth, anyhow. We are certain of an easy existence here at least. One shield will coin into money enough to supply our wants a long time. If we had not been so dreadfully secretive on Earth, perhaps some one, infringing our ideas, might have built another projectile and sent a relief expedition!"
Preparations for the banquet were rapidly being made about the Palace by men servants. We saw no female servants, and we learned afterward that they did no menial work, except the serving of the meals, which was rather an artistic duty.
We were conducted to two large ante-chambers, adjoining the banquet room, where we deposited our armament and proceeded to make ourselves at home as well as we could. The rooms were gloomy and poorly lighted, but a great number of servants were busy waiting upon us, and one presently brought in four portable gas-burners, placing them in a circle about my head as I reclined on a large pillow of soft down, laid on the floor. These burners thus furnished both heat and light, and nearly all the rooms were thus lighted and heated throughout the day. They had windows and a very thick, coarse, translucent but not transparent glass in them. But as the sunlight was never strong, rooms were rarely ever light enough for comfort without the flames of gas.
This was my first acquaintance with Martian gases, which I soon found to be very numerous and various in use. On the other hand, very few liquids existed. The atmospheric pressure was so low that what might have existed normally as liquids on Earth, took the form of heavy gases here. In every case they were heavier than the air, so that they remained in vessels just as a liquid would have done. The four lamps were made of reeds and shaped like the letter U. The right-hand side of the U was a large vertical reed, connecting neatly at the bottom with a very much smaller reed forming the other prong and terminating at the top in a tip of baked earth, turned downward, so that it would discharge the gas away from the lamp. A light stone weight was fitted to slide neatly down the large vertical tube in which the gas was stored, and thus force the gas up to the burner in the smaller tube. If a brighter light was desired, a heavier weight was put on, and to extinguish the light it was only necessary to lift the weight, which cut off the supply from the burner.
While lying on the downy floor-cushion, I was strangely annoyed by the faint and distant howling of a dog. It seemed to come from the banquet room adjoining mine, or from the doctor's room on the other side. I called in the doctor, who said he heard nothing and had seen no dogs on Mars. He tried to make me believe it was a fancy of mine. But presently when a servant entered, he seemed to hear it instantly, for he turned quickly about and left, but it was fully half an hour later before the plaintive howling ceased.
"These Kemish people have better ears than we have," I remarked to the doctor.
"Yes, both their ears and eyes are much better suited to the conditions of fainter light, and higher, thinner sounds. There may be music at the banquet to-night which we cannot hear at all in some of its notes."
"If there are no foods whose delicate flavours we fail to taste, I shall be able to get along quite well. I am extremely hungry, and quite ready for a change of fare." We had only eaten a hasty lunch when we had re-entered the projectile at Long Breath to await the return of the soldier.
Zaphnath himself came to conduct us to the banquet room, and we were much surprised at its dark and gloomy character. The entire vast enclosure had but twenty-one flickering fire-brands, suspended overhead and in front of us, to furnish light. There were no tables or chairs, no flowers or decorations, no sign of anything to eat. Other guests were moving about through the semi-darkness to their places, seemingly without inconvenience. I was whispering to the doctor that I would need eyes of much greater candle power to enjoy the function, when we arrived at our places. A double row of comfortable cushions ran along the edge of our floor, where it seemed to sink to a lower terrace, whence we could hear the indistinct hum of women's voices. Zaphnath took his seat on a raised cushion in the middle of the row, and motioned me to the cushion on his right and the doctor to his left. Eighteen other guests now reclined upon their cushions to left and right, so that we were all arranged in a direct line, facing the lower terrace whence came the feminine buzz. Directly opposite each of us was an empty cushion, but no table.
I was wondering at it all when the fire-brand farthest from me suddenly exploded a great flaming ball of fire, and we all sprang to our feet. From the terrace below came a grand burst of reed music, a swelling chorus of women's voices, and then each fire-brand in quick succession exploded a burst of flame, which floated down toward the dancing women, but expired above their heads. I soon saw that these white fire-balls, which continued in quick succession throughout the banquet, and afforded us a glorious if a somewhat appalling light, were caused by the successive discharges of small volumes of heavy gas from twenty-one reed-tanks in the comb of the roof, one above each of the fire-brands. When the discharged gas had floated down to the fire-brand beneath it, there was a quick, bright explosion, and the flame sank menacingly toward the women below.
The burst of music, the chorus of huzzahs, and the flashing forth of light, proved to be a welcome to the Pharaoh, who was standing proudly on his great throne opposite us, across the terrace and somewhat higher, whence he could look down upon the dancers and singers. He wore a crown of thin iron, surmounted by a golden asp. His elaborately curled wig did not conceal his ears, from which large golden pendants hung almost to his shoulders. His own beard was waxed and curled, and trimmed to the shape of a beaver's tail. His dress is best described by calling it a feather velvet, edged with flaring wing and tail plumes of iridescent colours. In this feather cloth there was none of the rough, gaudy show of the savage, but a discriminating, tasteful blending of colours and harmony of design, imitated from the beauty of the bird itself.
Grouped about him on the approaches to his throne were one-and-twenty of his favourite women, beautifully dressed in feather textures, with the curved neck and head of a bird surmounting their brows. But their costume was scant and simple compared with that of the dancing girls below us. They wore a wonderful head-dress, composed of the entire body of a small peacock. The head and neck were arched over the forehead, the back fitted tightly, like a hat over their head, the drooping wings covered their ears, while the fully spread tail arched above their head in its wonderful opalescence. Much of the snowy whiteness of their backs and breasts was bare, and a downy feather ribbon circled the necks, wrists, and ankles. A two-headed iron serpent with golden eyes clasped the upper arm and gartered the knee, but no jewels of any kind were to be seen. All the dancers carried long decorated reeds, which they flourished wondrously, and with which occasionally they executed the most surprising leaps. While there was a stateliness about their movements, there were also the most startling acrobatic surprises, made possible by the feeble gravity.
The singing women, or what might be called the chorus, were in twelve sets, each group clad in a different colour or design of feather-silk. Their head-dress, while composed of the entire body of a bird of plumage, lacked the flamboyant tail of the peacock. The music was weird and whimsical, as there were neither stringed nor brass instruments. It was made wholly by women playing upon a vast variety of drums and reeds. There were all sizes of whistling reeds or flutes; several of these of different lengths were grouped into one instrument like the pipes of Pan; a series of long hollow reeds, when rapidly struck, gave forth a marvellous cadence; while groups of small drums, of different size and tensity, gave curious tones. The whole effect was weirdly eloquent, rather than racy or exciting.
When the burst of welcome was ended, Zaphnath stretched forth his hand and exclaimed, first to us in Hebrew, and then in Kemish,-- "O Pharaoh, whose power and wisdom from all the Pharaohs have descended, behold, I bring unto thee these two iron men from the Blue Star, who, though excelling in the arts of war, are yet pleased to come out of the ruddy heavens to practise peace amongst us!"
And thus did Zaphnath translate the Pharaoh's response to us:-- "Unto Ptah, the Centre of Things, to whom the myriad stars of the heavens are but ministering slaves, I, Pharaoh of Kem, do give you welcome. Whatever pleaseth you in the largeness of this rich land, or in the matchless beauty of our women, shall be unto you as if ye had owned it always."
Whereupon the other guests turned toward us with the right hand upon the cheek, and we awkwardly attempted the same salutation. Then a group of the singing women, twenty-one in number, tripping to the weird music, came up the steps which led to our floor, carrying covered dishes. At the top they turned and saluted the Pharaoh, and then took their places, one upon each of the cushions opposite us. Before uncovering the dishes they took me a little by surprise, by bending forward and pressing their warm, pink cheek against the right cheek of the guest they were about to serve. My maiden unconsciously shivered a little, for my cheek must have felt cold, even though my surprised blushes did their best to warm it. Her dish, when opened, contained nothing but flowers, waxy white, but emitting a delicately sweet perfume. She held them toward my face, and presently breathed gently across them, as if to waft their perfume to me. Then scattering them about my cushion, she pressed her left cheek to mine, arose and tripped down the steps again. There was a modest self-possession about her which enchanted me, and I hoped she would soon return bringing something more substantial.
But another group of maidens, differently clothed, had already begun to mount towards us with earthen goblets and reed-pitchers, which looked as if they might contain wine. Dropping on her knees on the cushion before me, this maiden saluted me as the other had done. Then sitting gracefully before me, she tipped her reed pitcher toward the goblet, and poured out apparently nothing! But, watching the others, I saw them carry the goblet to their lips and draw a deep breath from it, while tipping it as one might a glass of wine. I did the same, and inhaled a deep draught of stimulating, wine-flavoured gas, which, when I exhaled it through the nostrils, proved to be deliciously perfumed.
"I have heard of some poets who could dine upon the fragrance of flowers and sup the sweetness of a woman's kiss, but I am hungry for grosser things," I whispered to the doctor.
"There are ten other groups of these serving maidens to come up to us," he replied. "They will certainly bring us something more tangible before it is over. Meantime, while we are in Kem, let us imitate the Kemish;" and I must say he was succeeding remarkably well.
The next maiden who tripped up toward me was wonderfully beautiful and most becomingly dressed. I was a little disappointed that, upon taking her place on the cushion in front of me, she omitted the salutation the others had given. However, she carried a small flask in her right hand, which she placed near my mouth. Then opening the top of it slightly, it jetted forth a deliciously perfumed fine spray, which moistened my lips. Waiting just a moment for me to enjoy the perfume, she then pressed her pretty cheeks in turn against my lips, until they were soft and dry. This was the nearest approach to a kiss which I saw among these people, and I learned it was given always just before eating solid food. The plate she carried to me contained small morsels of fish, served upon neat little wheaten cakes. There was no knife, fork, chopstick, or anything of that kind, but each little cake was lifted with its morsel of fish, and they were together just a delicate mouthful. This maiden quite took my fancy, and I watched her evolutions and listened for her voice in the chorus during the rest of the banquet, for she had no more serving to do.
After this course Zaphnath arose, and waving to the music and singing to cease, he thus addressed the Pharaoh:-- "It doth appear, O Pharaoh, that these visitors of ours come from a strange, small world, where, though much is done, but little is enjoyed. At thy bidding I have offered unto them all the luxuries of Kem, such as our people strive all their lives for, and dying still desire; but they wish no gifts or presents. Like slaves they only wish to work, but at some noble, fitting occupation. This younger man, whose wondrous learning hath taught him to speak even the tongues of other worlds, hath been a great handler of grain upon his proper star, and for him the fitting occupation is not far to seek. Thou knowest how the gathering of thy bounteous harvests hath distracted my own attention from weightier matters; wherefore, O Pharaoh, I do entreat thee to put into his charge the labour of gathering, storing, and distributing all thy harvests; and as a fitting compensation, let him have one measure of grain for every twenty that he shall gather for thee."
Nothing could have suited my wishes and abilities better, and my pay on Earth had been only one measure in five hundred. The Pharaoh's reply was thus translated to us,-- "The gods put into thy mouth, O Zaphnath, only the ripeness of their wisdom, and Pharaoh granteth thy requests ere they are uttered. But what desireth the wise man?"
To this I made answer for the doctor,-- "When thou knowest his wondrous wisdom touching many things, O Pharaoh, thou mayest think fit to give him a place among thy wise men, where they may learn from him and he from them. Will it please thee to send a slave for the Larger Eye and have it placed by yonder window, and he will presently show unto thee many of the wonders of the starry heavens that are hidden beyond the reach of man's unaided vision."
While two slaves were despatched in charge of a soldier to bring the telescope, we were served with a highly-sparkling, gas-charged wine, which further whetted my appetite. Then came another maiden with a small roast bird, neatly and delicately carved, and each tempting piece was laid upon a small lozenge of bread. I never ate anything with more relish.
There was an excited buzz among the women, and the Pharaoh himself was visibly affected at the sight of the telescope, whose burnished brass was evidently mistaken for gold. The doctor mounted it upon the backs of slaves near a high window, whence there was a good view of the heavens, and signalled to me to explain its use.
"O Zaphnath, wilt thou make known unto the Pharaoh, and these, his guests, that the wondrous value of this instrument lieth not in its bright and glistening appearance, but in the farther reach and truer vision of the heavenly bodies which it affordeth us. With this we ascertain all and far more than yon monstrous Gnomons tell thee; we learn the periods of the day, the seasons of the year, and vastly more than our common tongue hath words to tell thee of. Tell me, what callest thou yon risen orb, which hasteneth a rapid backward journey through the heavens?" I asked, indicating the full disc of Phobos.
"That is the Perverse Daughter, sole disobedient Child of Night, whose stubborn, contrary ways are justly punished by her mother. For she must draw a veil across her brilliant face for a brief period during every hasty trip she makes."
"Behold her, then, just entering upon her punishment!" I exclaimed, for the regular eclipse was just beginning. "Look! and tell us all thou seest."
"I see a glorious orb, far larger than the Day-Giver and very near to Ptah! But it is the Perverse Daughter, grown larger and come nearer, for she alone knoweth how to draw the veil of night across her face like that. Now she hath fully hidden! It is most wonderful, O Pharaoh!"
"Be not deceived by mere appearance, O Zaphnath," replied the Pharaoh. "All that thou seest may be contained within the thing thou gazest into. 'Tis true, the Perverse Daughter hath drawn her veil, but be thou sure thou seest what is beyond and not merely what is within."
As soon as this was translated to us, the doctor focussed the telescope upon the Gnomons, which were just visible over the edge of the plateau, and I said,-- "Look now again, and behold all the familiar features of the landscape, the plateau yonder and the ponderous Gnomons, which could never be contained within this little enclosure."
"'Tis all most true, O Pharaoh, and with this little instrument thy reign may be more glorious, and come to greater wisdom, than any of that long line of Pharaohs, whose toiling slaves have built the towering Gnomons. Let this grey-beard be made chief of all thy wise men; let the others teach him our language and make him acquainted with all our monuments and records; also command them to record most faithfully all the wonders which he is able to reveal. Mayhap he may be able to write thy name among the stars of night, to shine for ever, instead of upon the crumbling stone which telleth of thy ancestors!"
"O men of Kem," replied the Pharaoh, addressing the other guests, "hear ye the wisdom of Zaphnath, which cometh with the swift wings of birds, while thy halting counsel stumbleth slowly upon the lazy legs of asses! What Zaphnath asketh hath already been decreed touching these two men from the Blue Star, provided only that they live peaceably among us obedient to our laws."
We assured him of our obedience and our best efforts to discharge our new duties, whereupon the feast continued. Courses of small birds' eggs and of fruits and confections were each served by a separate group of maidens. When the feast was finally completed, I turned to Zaphnath with my cigars and said,-- "In our travelling house I brought with me many such things as these and others of a smaller, milder form, which might delight the women; but now that the house is gone, I have but three, one of which wilt thou send to the Pharaoh, one keep for thyself, and the other I will smoke to show you the manner of it. There is naught to fear about them; your taste for heavy vapours will have prepared you to enjoy the warmth and fragrance of this peculiar weed."
A servant came to carry the one to the Pharaoh, and I struck a match upon the stone floor and held the cigar designed for Zaphnath in the flame. Then I touched the flame to my own, and puffing gently, I asked Zaphnath to do the same. When I saw that his custom of inhaling gases led him to breathe in the smoke, I puffed very slowly and gently, until he should become accustomed to it. When Pharaoh saw that it did no harm to Zaphnath, he lighted his own and inhaled the smoke in long draughts with evident gusto.
"How sayest thou, O Zaphnath," he said at last. "Is not this warm vapour most stimulating? It is a treat worth all the rest of the banquet. Continual feasting hath made the luxuries of Kem to pall upon me, but this hath novelty and comfort in it. If, indeed, there were many of these in thy travelling house, my slaves shall search all the width and breadth of Ptah, until it be found."
The music now burst forth again in new volume, and the singing girls went through a new evolution, which broke up their groups and formed twelve new ones, containing one girl from each of the previous sets. Then the entire number began ascending the steps together, and I noted that those approaching me were the twelve maidens who had served me during the banquet. They came and circled around me, and presently stopped with their hands upon their cheeks in salute. The other groups did the same to the guests they had served, and each guest selected a maiden by saluting her upon the cheek, whereupon she left her circle and took her position upon the cushion opposite him. Zaphnath, seeing that we did not understand this ceremony, explained it to me.
"It is an ancient custom with the Pharaoh to present each of his guests with a living reminder of the occasion and his hospitality. Wherefore he desireth thee to choose which of the twelve serving maidens hath pleased thee best, and he will give her to thee, to be always thy maidservant."
I translated this to the doctor, and watched him curiously, with an inquiring twinkle in my eye.
"Let us accept them, and bestow their liberty upon them," he said.
I immediately chose the third maiden, who had pressed her pink cheeks to my lips, and when she came to sit opposite to me upon the cushion, I spoke to her through Zaphnath,-- "Thy ways have pleased me, but upon my star we do not think it proper to own any slaves. When we know well-favoured and graceful women, such as thou art, we prefer to be their slaves, rather than they ours. If I could take thee with me to the Earth, the laws there would set thee free to do whatever pleased thee best. Wishest thou that I make thee free here?"
She was evidently surprised when Zaphnath put this question to her. She replied in a sincere and pleading tone, but her words astonished me,-- "Whatever the dark Man of Ice wisheth, I will do. I know not why he hath asked what I desire. He speaketh of freedom, but I beseech him not to send me back to that! I was born an unhappy and masterless maiden, and many years I struggled and laboured for a miserable existence. I drove asses, gleaned in the fields, and did the menial work of men. But I felt I was fit for better, nobler things. At last, I heard that the armies of the Pharaoh were coming to my land, and I took heed of my appearance, put on my neatest feather clothing, and went to throw myself before the soldiers. They were pleased with me, and brought me to this city, where fortune favoured me, and Pharaoh, looking over all the women whom the soldiers brought from the wars, chose me, with many others, to join his household. And here in the Palace for a few years I have been happy and well cared for. I pray thee do not turn me out again; do not degrade me to the labour and misery of freedom. Even the beasts have masters! They are housed, and fed, and cared for; why should I then be cast out and left to drudge or beg?"
"Doth she mean this?" I exclaimed. "What then is the chief aim of women in Kem? What is the highest state to which they may aspire?"
"'Tis a strange, simple question!" he answered. "There is no greater blessing for a woman than to belong to the household of the Pharaoh. Here they are delighted with constant music and dancing; their beauty is cultivated and heightened by rich and tasteful clothing; and their charms and graces may win for them a selection as one of the one-and-twenty favourites of the Pharaoh. What they fear most is being chosen and carried away by guests whose palaces and ways of life are less luxurious than the Pharaoh's."
"Why then, as we have no palaces and wish no slaves, it were best to return these maidens to the Pharaoh if they will be happier and better cared for here than anywhere else in all the land of Kem," I said to Zaphnath.
"This age is not ripe for the grand idea of freedom which dominates our own," remarked the doctor, as we returned the grateful maidens to the constant delights of an ornate and sensuous slavery.
Parallel Planetary Life I was sleeping soundly on my deliciously soft heap of downy pillows, when in the early morning I was awakened by a pounding on the door of the ante-chamber. As one always wakens from a sound sleep with his most familiar language upon his tongue, I cried out in English, "Who's there?" The doctor answered, wishing to be let in. I fumbled about in the darkness sleepily, and opened the door, and he lighted two of my gas-lamps with the one he carried. He looked rather tired and worn.
"I am possessed by a tyrant idea, which will not let me sleep," he said. "I must get rid of it before morning. Come, get your senses about you, and listen to me," he commanded, as I yawned and rubbed my fists into my eyes, blinded by the sudden strong light.
"If you think I can sleep with it any better than you can, out with it," I answered.
"How does it happen that a young Hebrew is ruler over all these people?" he demanded.
"Do you lie awake thinking up conundrums?" I ejaculated.
"On Earth, what notable Jews have been rulers over a great people not of their own race?" he continued.
"Disraeli in England, Joseph in Egypt, and--well, that is all I can think of just now."
"Perhaps that is enough. Egypt was the greatest grain-raising country in Joseph's time, wasn't it?"
"Yes, of course," I answered. "And Joseph's rule began with seven years of most wonderful crops."
"Zaphnath told us this morning that the seventh great crop, and the most plenteous of all, is now growing," he interrupted.
"What has that to do with Joseph? We are not on Earth, but on Mars. Have you been dreaming? Zaphnath is---- But, by the way, Joseph's Egyptian name was Zaphnath-paaneah, meaning a revealer of secrets! When I heard that name this morning, I thought it was strangely familiar. Pharaoh called him that when he appointed him ruler, because he had interpreted his dream," I said, just realizing the very peculiar coincidence.
"You are as good as a Bible!" cried the doctor. "Perhaps you can also remember by which of Jacob's wives Joseph was born?"
"Of course I can. He was the first son of Rachel, the wife whom Jacob really loved, and worked fourteen years to secure."
"But how could he have ten older brothers, if he was Rachel's first son?" he demanded, a little perplexed.
"They were all the sons of her sister Leah and her handmaidens. Rachel was barren all her life until Joseph was born," I explained.
"And Zaphnath said this morning that his mother was barren all the years of her life that the Blue Star wandered. He also called himself revealer of God's hidden things."